Food labeling is a hot topic these days. I recently participated in a food labeling discussion with farmers and non-farmers across the country. I was happy to be invited as a consumer and farm defender. When non-farmers and farmers come together it can get animated. Discuss labeling and it can get close to something resembling a battle ground. Still, I support my farmers and find it alarming they are most often not invited to the table to talk about those issues that most affect them. We should value their input. Not including them in discussions can create fear and lack of addition of valuable knowledge. GMO labeling is a cost issue for farmers. If there’s no longer a need for GMO crops, a possible outcome of GMO labeling, they can’t simply convert their growing space to something else. It takes long range planning and money.
“GMO” could be the icon for any labeling discussion. I was in favor of a Maine GMO labeling law. The one that passed I consider to be mostly useless, largely because of the trigger clause, which requires five contiguous states to also have GMO labeling laws before Maine’s goes into effect. The process, however, created engaging discussion and a certain measurement of how passionate people can be about their food. This I applaud.
GMO labeling is back in Maine news. Opponents are using this same argument: GMO labeling is an unfair, inequitable law that will put Maine at a disadvantage with neighboring states which don’t require food to be GMO labeled. The other side heralds eaters rights. At the least, the trigger should go. On the other hand, I think that in the wake of current Federal discussion on GMO labeling and creating a national standard, Maine legislators should put the discussion aside for the time being and see what comes from the Feds. I didn’t think this when fighting for the original bill, because the Feds and food companies weren’t responding to consumers. Now they are. Let’s move forward. By that I mean, if there’s going to be another discussion, let’s label medical food, meat and livestock feed.
This is why I believe there needs to be a national standard. You may have seen the “Non-GMO Verified Project” seal on some products and wondered why it wasn’t on others. If something is not labeled non-GMO, should we assume there are some, if not all GMO ingredients? Nope. If the product is labeled organic, you don’t need the non-GMO label, as it has to be non-GMO in order to be labeled organic. It could be the producer didn’t want to pay the fee for non-GMO certified, even though all of the ingredients are non-GMO. It gets confusing. If not confusing, a definite time drain to educate yourself on how to decipher a label and if there isn’t a label, what does that mean?
Consumers are speaking loud and clear. Although whether their response is of sound judgement is still being debated, companies are listening. Enter Campbell Soup Co. and SpaghettiOs -made with GMO beet sugar, GMO high fructose corn syrup and sometimes added meatballs. Mmm Mmm Good they say. After many years of opposing GMO labeling, Campbell’s now says they “will advocate for federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be clearly and simply labeled for GMOs.” (campbellsoupcompany.com) Although, they didn’t specify a timeline, they indicated that if the Feds don’t act in a timely fashion, they will work independently to disclose the presence of GMOs in their products.
Having a Big Food name like Campbell’s support labeling is a game changer. They aren’t saying GMO’s are unsafe, only that they believe consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. I agree. Of course, the whole truth behind their decision is that Vermont’s labeling law, which excludes meat, makes labeling complicated. “Partially produced with genetic engineering” doesn’t work for SpaghettiOs with meatballs.
I remember my high school economics teacher teaching “caveat emptor”. I learned that as a buyer, I was to always beware! Rely on the power of information. So, talk with food producers and sellers whenever possible. Check www.nongmoproject.org for list of verified products. When in doubt, rely on intuition. The last of which we have always at our ready.